Listening to Milk Maid for the first time, it will come as a surprise to learn that this band is not American. Martin Cohen sings in a convincing American accent, but he hails from Manchester, and used to play bass for Nine Black Alps. He’s been going under the Milk Maid moniker for barely a year and a half, and this new project is definitely his baby. For last year’s debut album Yucca he enlisted the help of some friends after writing the songs himself. That album was released in mid-June of last year; barely a year later, Cohen’s new outfit – which is now a full-band proposition – are set to return with this new output.
Releasing a follow-up to an album so soon is a double-edged sword. Such a move can see an album labelled ‘rushed’ if it’s not up to par, but if it’s great, there will be talk of an artist or band being at the peak of their creative powers. Take for instance Los Campesinos!‘ second album; We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, released a mere six months after the band’s debut and a significant improvement on what had come before. Mostly No is neither rushed nor great, but hints at being both things at different times. Granted, while there will be accusations of laziness levelled at some of the material on this album – its sequencing needs some work, and there are times that it sounds like Cohen and his band are phoning it in, like on the sub-par Drag To Find – it is important to remember that Cohen penned the entirety of the album whilst touring Yucca itself, got home, took a small break and then recorded the 11-song collection at home.
Having eschewed the use of ProTools and other such software gizmoidery, what results is a distinctly lo-fi sound, one that gives it a sort of rough-and-ready charm. Again, this works both ways: every now and then it sounds as though there is a great song being buried under layers of feedback and distortion. Do Right is a particularly disappointing example, as Cohen’s vocals are mixed much too low to be intelligible and the song cleaves too close to the usual noise-rock aesthetic. It has a great melody going for it, and an impressive chorus, too, but the major issue with it is that the real meat of the song has been locked away in a needlessly noisy prison and is screaming to get out.
When that sort of thing is done right, as on the raucously catchy lead single Summertime, it shows up Mostly No as an album with good intentions but one that’s flawed in its execution. It says something that the songs on which the band strip everything back and let Cohen and his acoustic guitar guide things, as on the brief but brilliant New Plans, which lasts all of 78 seconds, leave more of an impact than anything else across the album’s 32 minutes. This sounds like merely the beginning of a revitalising evolution of Milk Maid, because even though Mostly No is good, it’s not quite good enough.